You Are Not a Chess Piece. You’re the Board.

That’s the message of emotional agility from author Susan David, Ph.D. “The broader view we gain by stepping out means learning to see yourself as the chessboard, filled with possibilities, rather than as any one piece on the board, confined to certain preordained moves.” Stepping out is one of the four moves the author and management consultant recommends to build more agility and resilience in dealing with emotions at any point in your life.

David has spent over 20 years coaching people, testing and refining the principles of emotional agility to help numerous clients achieve big things in their lives. Her definition of emotional agility is learning to become more aware of your emotions, learn to accept and make peace with them, and then get on with life. She calls it “loosening up, calming down, and living with more intention.”

She quotes Viktor Frankl, the psychiatrist who survived a Nazi death camp and went on to write Man’s Search for Meaning, who wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Here are her four steps – what she calls movements – to emotional agility.

1. Show up. David writes, “In the context of this book, “showing up” means facing into your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors willingly, with curiosity and kindness. Some of these thoughts and emotions are valid and appropriate to the moment. Others are old bits stuck in your psyche like that Beyoncé song you’ve been trying to get out of your head for weeks.” Either way, you’ll need to acknowledge them in order to deal with them.

2. Step out. David says after facing into your thoughts and emotions, is detaching from and observing them to see them for what they are—just thoughts, just emotions. “By doing this we create Frankl’s open, nonjudgmental space between our feelings and how we respond to them… Detached observation keeps our transient mental experiences from controlling us.”

3.  Walk your why. The next step, after you’ve gained some space and some calm, is to refocus on your core values and your goals. David writes, “Your core values provide the compass that keeps you moving in the right direction.” You can make a better decision about what to do in an emotional moment when you can remember what the long game is about.

4.  Move on. David says: “Traditional self-help tends to see change in terms of lofty goals and total transformation, but research actually supports the opposite view: that small, deliberate tweaks infused with your values can make a huge difference in your life.” She says the key to emotional agility is “finding find the perfect balance between challenge and competence so we’re neither complacent nor overwhelmed but are instead excited, enthusiastic, and invigorated by challenges.”

Getting yourself unstuck using these four moves may sound simple, but of course it’s not easy. More on how to do it in future posts.

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